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The Department of English will hold a memorial lecture for Professor Erwin Steinberg on April 16.

March 2013

Plain Language and the Legacy of Professor Erwin R. Steinberg

Memorial Lecture To Be Held April 16 at 4:30p.m.

The late Carnegie Mellon University English Professor Erwin R. Steinberg was a pioneer of plain language and technical writing during the 20th century.

To celebrate Steinberg’s contributions, the Department of English will host a memorial lecture on Tuesday, April 16 at 4:30 p.m. in Baker Hall’s Steinberg Auditorium (BH A53). The lecture will feature Ginny Redish, president of Redish & Associates, Inc. and a fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, who will talk on Steinberg’s legacy.

Steinberg and Redish first collaborated after President Jimmy Carter issued a 1978 Executive Order requiring government agencies to communicate in easy-to-understand terms. In response, the Department of Education launched a project to study the problem and develop ways to better train writers.

“At the time, I was at American Institutes for Research (AIR) and - because Erwin and others at Carnegie Mellon were already active in the field, we connected with them to develop curriculum,” said Redish, who has since had a long career in usability and documentation and is the author of three books on related topics. “Our goal was to establish innovative educational opportunities.”

Steinberg led the Carnegie Mellon side of what was called the Document Design Project. And, out of the three-year project, the English Department’s Master of Arts in Professional Writing (MAPW) program and Ph.D. in Rhetoric were born.

“Erwin helped found the technical writing field and our undergraduate major and also helped forge our development of interdisciplinary research connections that helped to catapult our professional writing and rhetoric programs into national prominence,” said Chris Neuwirth, head of the Department of English.

Redish, who broadly defines plain language as “user experience,” said that plain language is still a huge international movement. She credits Steinberg’s early work as an important step in progressing the field to where it is today.

“Carnegie Mellon has had a tremendous impact in the field,” she said. “Alumni are now all over the country and have been very influential in companies like Apple and Microsoft.”

The Carnegie Mellon plain language sphere of influence includes accomplished alumni such as Irene Etzkorn (DC’82), executive director of simplification at Siegel & Gale; Christina Stile (DC’99), a writer/editor at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; Liz Danzico (DC’98), chair and co-founder of the MFA Interaction Design Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City; and Mary Dieli (DC’86), who worked at Apple and ran a usability lab at Microsoft before her death.

“It is very common for our alumni to tell me that they live out the rest of their careers with Professor Steinberg encouraging them in their inner ear as they write and revise English prose,” said David Kaufer, professor of English.

For more information on the upcoming memorial lecture, visit

Related Article:
Obituary: Carnegie Mellon's Erwin R. Steinberg, Legendary English Professor Helped Found Technical Writing Field and Worked Tirelessly To Improve Education

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